FAIRFIELD – Officials and residents met Thursday to find common ground over their visions for Fairfield, as the town looks to update its state-mandated plan of conservation and development.
Jim Wendt, the town planning director, told the crowd gathered at the open house event at Osborn Hill School that officials have a “pretty good handle” on what residents love about Fairfield, but said they needed community input on a lingering issue.
“What we’re trying to do is balance our desire to preserve and enhance those community characteristics that everybody loves with the need to identify opportunities for additional economic growth,” he said. “So, those are pretty much competing interests that we need to try to find the sweet spot.”
Every 10 years, municipalities must develop a plan of conservation and development to qualify for discretionary state funding. In an April 14 update to residents, First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said housing and development is a constant topic of conversation, especially as more 8-30g applications are submitted. The statute encourages affordable housing developments in municipalities like Fairfield, where only 2.81 percent of the housing stock is state-designated affordable, by allowing developers to bypass local zoning regulations.
But debates over which areas should house these developments have caused tensions in Fairfield, which is home to 12 properties on the National Register of Historic Places, five beaches and over 1,100 acres of open space.
“The 8-30g statute is a state law which the town has no authority to override and I have been a long-time advocate for initiatives to amend the statute and actually increase affordable housing,” Kupchick wrote. “However, there are other avenues the town can use to plan future growth by being strategic about what, where and how our town is developed in the future.”
Kupchick said the POCD will discuss a “common-sense strategy” for housing development opportunities in appropriate locations.
The first selectwoman did not attend the open house, during which residents bounced from station to station, discussing each of the six “vision statements” that consultants with FHI Studio and town officials developed.
Adam Tecza, a project manager with FHI Studio, summarized the six visions developed through previous workshops, events and surveys with residents – Fairfield should be a community that is resilient, environmentally-rooted, home to all, sustainably prosperous, interconnected and one where people can come together.
“We think those vision statements, taken together, encapsulate the vision that a lot of people had and have expressed to us,” Tecza said.
At the stations, residents could write their recommendations on sticky notes and use stickers to indicate whether they agreed with the goals. Residents seemingly agreed with most of the POCD goals as dense clusters of stickers sat under the “yes” columns. But many also wrote down their thoughts on local housing developments.
“Reduce the pace of development,” one resident wrote.
“Preserve peaceful neighborhoods by not allowing zoning changes,” wrote another.
“Encourage ADUs + modest sized new homes.”
At one station, residents gathered around Wendt as he explained potential strategies to make Fairfield “a community that is home to all.” The large poster listed four potential actions, including maintaining historic districts and legacy neighborhoods while expanding business districts.
Wendt acknowledged that Fairfield had little unoccupied space, but said the town was looking to encourage townhouse developments.
“The question we’re trying to pose here is … is there an opportunity to allow a greater density than would be allowed today to do a townhouse-type development in appropriate spots?” Wendt asked.
Many residents sold their homes during the pandemic, Wendt said, and townhouse developments would be a great solution for those who may be downsizing or for young people not quite ready to buy a house.
According to Fairfield’s 2022 affordable housing plan, local zoning regulations currently allow for two-family homes in some areas, and three- and four-family homes in others. But the document outlined a desire to develop middle housing, which “sits in-between” single-family homes and multifamily developments – like townhouses.
Wendt said the town and consultants would begin to draft the final POCD after the Thursday event. Once published, residents will have another opportunity to comment on the plan before it’s reviewed by the Board of Selectmen and adopted by the Planning and Zoning Commission.